Let’s see, it’s Tuesday night, there’s a new ASTRO CITY out tomorrow, so what am I doing? I’m typing up a new online letter column, what else would I be doing?
We start off, as is our wont, with the Letter of the Month, this time from TRAVIS PULLEN:
You know what I like about this comic? The ability to make me stop and think about things in just one panel. It’s what might be considered a throwaway news report used to set up the plot, but the start of it mentions a superhero promoting a consumer product. That one blurb made me want to learn more about N-Forcer, and what kind of setup he has with sponsoring companies (there has to be more than just one!). The combination of corporate sponsorship and Winged Victory’s powers coming from followers around the world reminded me of Superstar, but with enough variation that it doesn’t look like you’re returning to your own well too much for ideas.
The handling of feminist issues was well written, too. I like the questions Vic’s policy causes when she is set up to help only women. Is this a type of discrimination, in that she will actually withhold resources when a man needs help? How can that response be justified? In the meantime, the reveal of the source of her powers helps make crystal clear why her emphasis on supporting women is so strong. Does she view an expenditure of resources to help a man as a possible loss of support that could have been used to shore up her power reserves? Is this really someone to look up to for positive reinforcement? If the world learns of her reasons for doing things the way she does, will she be rejected as a self-serving power seeker? How noble can her quest really be when she pursues these things just to maintain her power?
The writing is just top-notch. I love the fact that Samaritan offered help, as he always does, and how Vic patiently explained how she needed to tackle the situation by herself. I’ve been in those situations before, but the explanation offered to me was usually delivered with histrionics or a plaintive argument, and it’s refreshing to see it handled in a mature manner on both sides. I also enjoy seeing the motivation of a superhero being defined primarily by fear. Not the normal ideas of losing loved ones, or losing your life, but the fear of loss of power and identity. Brent Anderson’s art conveyed the depth of her fear, and more than a hint of desperation. It’s freaky and almost criminal how much I take the art team for granted these days. They are so consistently superb every issue. I probably stop to go back and look at the art again on this title more than any other. More, please.
Thanks, Travis. A few quick notes: We’ll definitely be getting to more about the N-Forcer (hopefully soon-ish), but I will note that he’s worked for N.R.Gistics (formerly Nicholls-Royce) since his debut in the late 1950s.
Winged Victory isn’t powered by “followers,” but by the Council of Nike—benefactors, sponsors, those would be better words, I’d say. And I sure wouldn’t say she does what she does “just to maintain her power.” She was granted her power for a mission, and it’s a mission she takes on willingly. Helping women is the mission.
And hey, she and Samaritan know each other well, so they’re going to be mature about things, we hope.
I’ll toss in a reminder that Travis gets a signed copy of the issue for writing the LOTM, and I encourage you—yes, you there, with the face—to write in as well, and you just might get one, too.
More after the break…
So anyway, on we go to the rest of the mail. Here’s REED:
Winged Victory, as a character, is obviously inspired by Wonder Woman. Although both characters openly advocate a feminist agenda, Winged Victory’s feminist beliefs and goals are more assertive and apparent. The latest story arc highlights Winged Victory’s feminist message, as the character endures an attack on her reputation that shakes her indomitable confidence, but not her courage. Samaritan offers his help, but Winged Victory refuses the hero’s direct help on principle, concerned that the acceptance of such help would create a perception of female weakness, and bravely decides to confront the problem on her own terms. Of all of the characters featured in ASTRO CITY, Winged Victory is arguably the most political, and I believe the most intriguing. Now that she has an origin story and a story arc that focuses directly on her, I think that Winged Victory is finally getting the spotlight that she deserves.
Glad you’re liking it, Reed. As I type these words, we’re putting the finishing touches on the final part to get it off to press, so let me just say I hope we don’t screw up the landing.
Next up is DAVID:
“Lauren Freed”—but Infidel called her “Kristen.” (Maybe she changed her name when she embarked upon her new life?)
He didn’t call her Kristen, actually, he asked if her name was Kristen, as if he was having trouble remembering it. He was wrong, though.
Frankly, I’m not even sure Infidel knows what Winged Victory’s real name is. He was trying to get some sort of reaction from Samaritan in that story, with personal comments, and whether he was hoping to get Samaritan to correct him and reveal private information or just get under his skin by annoying him, he’s not really an authoritative source.
[As a side note to this: I’ve always been kind of amused how trustworthy people in comics are, even villains. They may try to murder millions or enslave the world or sell our precious nuclear secrets to Badnewsia, but if they tell you something—particularly when monologizing—you can almost always count on them to give you the straight dope, however dishonest or deceptive their character. I’ve certainly done plenty of that in the comics I’ve written, but be warned: If a character says something in an ASTRO CITY story, don’t just take their word for it. If they’re a trustworthy sort, then sure, maybe, but if they’re not, who’s to say they’re telling the truth?]
On to GHORNET:
The only ‘disappointing’ part of the issue was the cover and then only a little. I know your paring of Winged Victory & Samaritan happend long before Supes and WW, but it’s a little disappointing to see you mirror the cover.
As much as I enjoy the showcasing of the minor characters it was nice to get back to the majors. I don’t think showcasing minor and one-shot characters is meaningless (it’s part of what makes it Astro City), and just because you haven’t used someone in a while doesn’t mean you won’t. To that point it was nice see the return of The Confessor, one of my favorite characters. He always seemed to be your Batman character. A dark hero who doesn’t cross the line. His powers almost seemed secondary. And now that it’s Brian, that has changed. Or is it Brian?
Overall a great book. You had romance, intrigue, an origin and let’s not forget the cliffhanger. Too many writers seem to write for the TPB reprint, stretching or compacting stories to fit, but you’ve avoided that!
We always keep in mind how the stories are going to be collected, I’ll admit, but it’s not a matter of choosing one format over another—if a story’s going to be published in a single-issue periodical, it should read well that way. And if it’s going to be published in a book compilation, it should read well that way, too. Both, to my mind, should be taken into account.
I’m not sure what cover it is we were “mirroring,” but I can tell you that Alex painted that cover in January 2011 (or at least that’s when the scan reached me, so it could even have been late 2010), before the “New 52” was a thing, much less the Superman-Wonder Woman romance.
And yeah, that’s Brian. He’s learned a few tricks over the years, though.
Once again, to repeat the opening words of last month’s letter of the month, you guys disappoint me. I know it is going to happen every time I open an issue but still I have to do it.
Please let me explain: I am a Brit and an old Brit at that. I came to American comics via Adam Strange and then had delight in experiencing the birth of Marvel big time and the Silver Age of DC. In those days I had to scour newsstands to find the odd import or travel over 100 miles to get my fix from the only major comic shop in Britain.
Nowadays, things are different. Britain, quite rightly, abounds in comic shops and there is the magic of mail order through the internet. The only comic I order sight unseen through the internet is ASTRO CITY. Why?
Stan Lee, a man I revere and respect, introduced the idea of comics sold over several issues, usually referred to as an arc. My concern is that too often, comics expand to fill that arc when the story does not necessarily need it. Comics that do need five issues take ten, and given these harsh financial times some of the incentive to buy diminishes. Remember, in MYSTERY IN SPACE, it only took half an issue for an Adam Strange story rightly known as a classic.
This is never the case with ASTRO CITY, despite the story arcs. Characters are not padded, their stories are not fleshed out to no purpose, but are needed for the story. Characters you think finished with and discarded pop up when you least expect them, as did the Confessor this issue. You always entertain without fail. Stories, characters feed into a superb Astro City universe. You do not waste words and themes but use them like the masters you are.
So where the disappointment? The disappointment in other titles I have seen mature and know glory days. None of them that have given me immense pleasure in the past can be trusted to give me the same overwhelming sense of pleasure from a comic still, as you consistently do.
So please please keep disappointing me and I suspect many other fans the way you do. At least then the sixteen year old boy who lives in me somewhere will still have one comic diamond to look forward to. Thank you. All the best to you and yours.
Our, uh, pleasure, Roger. [Man, we gotta do something about this ‘disappointment’ theme, it’s giving me a complex.]
Just for accuracy’s sake, I’ll note that Stan Lee didn’t introduce the multi-issue story arc to comics—the very first Superman story, in ACTION COMICS 1, is a continued story, and other examples abound, from Bill Everett’s Namor stories in MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS to the classic “Monster Society of Evil” serial that ran for two years in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES in the mid-1940s. And I’m not sure Stan was the impetus in their profusion at Marvel, or if that was just another example of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby’s imaginations being too big for any confines. But certainly, Marvel was the leader in making the ongoing serial the standard choice for mainstream American comics.
[Tom Brevoort points out that “the multi-issue saga started really with Ditko on Hulk in TALES TO ASTONISH, and then it spread from there to other books.” And certainly, Ditko used it earliest for long and memorable stories, both in ASTONISH and STRANGE TALES.]
And I’ll encourage you, whenever any old favorite isn’t delivering the entertainment you’re looking for, to try something else, whether it’s the contempo fairy-tale fantasy of FABLES to the noir horror of FATALE to the sordid historical mystery of SATELLITE SAM, and on and on. There are tons of good comics to be found out there, for all ages and all tastes. All you gotta do is look around.
[Heck, if you like tightly-told character stories from the 1960s, there’s stuff out like the Classic Comics Press collections of Leonard Starr’s masterful ON STAGE, one of the best “story strips” ever to grace a newspaper page. Or IDW’s RIP KIRBY collections, or Fantagraphics’s BUZ SAWYER volumes…the great comics of the past, more and more, are available to us once again.]
Who’s next? It’s ISAAC:
Merry Christmas! While doing some catch up on the new ASTRO CITY series, this evening, I finally thought to look and see if my “letter” was “printed” in the letter column a few months ago.
And, thanks for the reply! I’ve really enjoyed these latest Astro City stories. Maddie’s story was a high point so far, in my opinion. And the two parter about Honor Guard’s call center was really well done. I was worried, after the first part, that it wouldn’t have the same high quality I’ve come to expect from AC, but the full story was really well done.
On a wildly unrelated note, I recently tracked down the ARROWSMITH trade and I’d like to say (about a decade to late, sorry!) that it’s fantastic! After a bit of Googling, I see there was talk of plans for a prose-with-pictures style sequel, I imagine something like the ASTRO CITY 1/2 backup story. I don’t know if those plans are still in the works somewhere, out there. But, I’d be happy to pick it up if it ever hits the shelves.
And, finally, I’m quite looking forward to this Samaritan/Winged Victory/Confessor storyline. I haven’t had a chance to read part one yet, but the solicit made it sound like we have an Astro City big three showdown on our hands. Awesome!
As it happens, the ARROWSMITH illustrated-prose novel is on hold, at least for the moment, but Carlos and I are preparing a second ARROWSMITH project as a full-on comics mini-series, that’ll be under way soon. We’ve got a story worked out, I’m doing research on it now (everything from Spanish social unrest during WWI to German mythic water creatures), and Carlos will begin drawing it later this year.
So hopefully, we’ve got you covered.
Now here’s MATT:
Hi! And thanks for another great issue of ASTRO CITY.
Right now in comics, one of the better feminist writers is Kurt Busiek, who consistently writes believable women characters into ASTRO CITY.
Still, a couple of things bother me about AC 7: That Meg the Healer should be portrayed as the stereotypical male-despising heavy-set hulk of a girl. And that it’s an all-women’s university political group that suddenly about-faces to castigate Winged Victory. Hard enough to believe Astro City would so universally turn against her, after all they’ve undergone together—and I believe a two-minute televised plea by WV for citizens to remember who she is, based on what she’s done for the city, and to watch what she does to get to the truth: That’d sure convince me to give her a chance. Some other group, well, perhaps they’d boo her, but an assembly of college women gathered for common political purpose?
I don’t mean to write only when there’re things that bother me, but these seemed really bothersome, out of place in ASTRO CITY. So let me say that finding WV and Samaritan silhouetted by the moon, tiny in the bottom panel page two, reminded me that AC is a comic I can come back to, like CREBUS, JACK STAFF and USAGI YOJIMBO, every few years, and reread with the same enjoyment they bring as new comics.
And a totally random brought-up-by-typing question: Does WV drive a VW?
Given how little she’s used her civilian identity over the years, Matt, I’m not sure she drives at all.
I will note that Winged Victory has never been portrayed as a well-loved hero—right from the start, we’ve made it clear that many people are threatened by her feminist stance, and she’s been steadily mistrusted and seen as tantamount to a “lesbian terrorist,” or some other such danger. So no, a televised appeal to the people of Astro City wouldn’t do much for her, though the locals are probably more flexible than the national media.
And it wasn’t the Messick University (which isn’t in Astro City) women’s group that turned on her—her lecture was flooded by outsiders determined to shout her down. As the sympathetic host notes, the people shouting weren’t there to listen and the people who wanted to listen couldn’t hear.
As for Healer Meg: I can’t say I think it’s stereotypical to encounter a character who expresses a negative attitude toward men at a large women’s shelter and self-defense training camp, particularly not someone whose primary job is to see to the injuries of the battered women who come through the doors. I expect Meg isn’t the only one there to be distrustful of men. Indeed, I think it’d be wholly unrealistic if she was.
And Meg’s short and squat because she’s essentially a walking, sentient bronze statue, something along the lines of a primitive fertility idol with agency. That’s a part of why she’s got healing powers in the first place.
And on that note…
I recently discovered that I’d filed a bunch of Astro City e-mail in the wrong folder—hey, the “Amazon” e-mail folder is right next to the “Astro City” folder, and apparently my hand-eye coordination is not as trustworthy as it should be. But I’ve found it, so over the next couple of months, I’ll slip those letters in.
Let’s start with ERIC:
Re: ASTRO CITY #4 – “On The Sidelines”
Another great read, sir!
I couldn’t help but wonder about Martha Sullivan’s father during the story, since you gave us the nice vague answer of ‘there could be other possibilities.’ You are always keeping us readers guessing and teasing us with the mysteries.
I also enjoyed the fact that then two code names she could have had were Mind-Over-Mattie and Telecaster. It proves in the story that she should remain anonymous as a civilian-clothed on and off again hero with the Sideliners. The mark of every true great story is that you want to read more. I would buy Sideliners if you ever did a spin-off book.
Keep up the great work!
Re: ASTRO CITY #5 (ROMEYN FALLS #1) – “Thumbtacks & Yarn”
My favorite Alex Ross cover for the new series so far. It’s one of those covers you would love to have as a poster.
While I’m intrigued by the Broken Man’s story, I like the 8-page Dame Progress and Mister Cakewalk story the best. It really proves that my two favorite ASTRO CITY short stories are this one and ASTRO CITY #1/2—both use time travel, too.
Eulalia Jane Verne was a great character I hope we see again. Maybe instead of Jules Verne she might be related to H.G. Wells.
Brent did an outstanding job as always on the art. 1903, 1931 and 1947 all looked great!
Glad you liked ’em!
I’m not sure SIDELINERS would work as an ongoing series—for the most part, they just go about their lives, and don’t have adventures or get into fights at all. They mostly only communicate online, for that matter, so it’d hardly be a conventional group book. Although that might be part of the appeal.
Although we may just have to see them again sometime, if only to see Magda again, and maybe meet Lizzie for real.
Ah…it’s good to be back in the city, Kurt. We’ve all been away far too long. I’ve been a huge fan of yours, Brent’s and Alex’s since A.C. #1 in ’95, and I’ll tell you why.
First, you guys could give a masters class in continuity. There’s virtually no other series in the industry (for me at least) that’s as creatively compiled while remaining faithful to its look and feel and distinct history as ASTRO CITY. For what I originally thought would be just another homage piece, a simulacru-verse (if you will) to the big “2,” you’ve done an incredible, enduring job of not only rivaling but in my opinion exceeding them both.
Second is the stories’ construction. Your everyman narrative in particular offers readers a rare perspective, a sense that they could just as easily be a resident of A.C., privy to the same world of wondrous, costumed characters as any on the page (“The Scoop” remains one of my all-time favorites). Your ability to break that wall remains unique and I really enjoy climbing through it.
And finally the supes themselves…good and bad. From contrite vamps to battlin’ Barbies, nobody does it better than you fellas. I look forward to your latest run and hope your tenure with Vertigo is a long and happy one.
Thanks, Michael. And to play us out, ALEXANDER:
First of all, it is a happy day indeed when I can hold a new ASTRO CITY issue in my hands! I was discussing the return of this marvelous comic with a friend and he said, “It’s how comics used to be done,” to which I respectfully disagree. It’s how comics should be done; with big ideas, big imagination and big heart and this “first” issue carries on that grand tradition. Welcome back to one of the best creative teams of this or any era of comics.
And thank you, too, sir, and sorry it took so long to respond.
See you all next month, I hope, when we meet the Silver Adept!